Snake captured in Wesley Chapel being used to create antivenom

There are six venomous snakes found in Florida, and four are common in the Tampa Bay area. One bite could be deadly, but that same dangerous snake venom is key to reversing the damage.

A Pasco County family discovered an eastern diamondback rattlesnake in the backyard of their Wesley Chapel home in early September. The five-foot pit viper was safely captured and this week it got a new home. The snake is now part of the colony at Reptile World Serpentarium in Osceola County.

“I think the total would hit somewhere in the neighborhood of about 700, that’s between what we have as breeders, our exhibit snakes, and the venom extraction stock that we have here,” said Reptile World Serpentarium Director/Owner George Van Horn

Most of the facility's snakes are on the venom line. Handlers at the facility milk about 15-species of venomous snakes.

“When those fangs are in there and they squeeze that muscle, it’s just like a squirt gun effect, it just shoots that venom right out the end of the fang and into the tissue,” Van Horn said.

In this case, into a glass container. Collecting the yellow liquid is step-one in creating antivenom.

“That venom goes into a centrifuge tube, we spin it, we clean it up as clean as we can get it, and then we freeze-dry it, and then we weigh it out,” explained Van Horn.

There isn’t one universal antivenom for every snake bite. Eastern diamondback rattlesnake venom is mixed with three other snake venoms to create CroFab. It can be used to treat most pit viper envenomations.

The freeze-dried venom from Reptile World Serpentarium, another lab in Florida, and one in Utah are all sent overseas. A tiny quantity is injected into flocks of sheep in Australia. The antibodies in the animal’s blood are then extracted, purified and turned into CroFab antivenom.

Vials of CroFab powder are distributed throughout the United States, stocked in every hospital in Central Florida.

“When the hospitals get an envenomation or multiple envenomations where they may run out of antivenom then they can utilize one of three antivenom banks,” explained Joseph Keefer, Director of the Nature Coast Anti-Venom Index.

There is one in Miami-Dade County, Lake County, and Hernando County.

The Nature Coast Anti-Venom Bank runs out of Fire Rescue Station 3 in Spring Hill. Stocking up to 40 doses of CroFab along with about a dozen other anti-venoms.

“We serve the area basically from South of Sarasota to Tallahassee,” Keefer said.

Eventually, that rattlesnake captured in Pasco County could be helping to save someone’s life back on Florida's West Coast.